One surprising part of the debate on public education funding is how rarely officials use appropriate data to advance public policy. The best example: Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget requests $40 million in additional funds to boost veteran teacher salaries. The request is part of an extension of the Career Ladder salary plan. But a review of actual salary data shows there is no justification for simply adding another rung to the top of the Career Ladder to provide more money to veteran teachers.
In her Sept. 3 press release, Ybarra states, “The career ladder, a product of Idaho’s first K-12 education task force, has come a long way toward rewarding Idaho educators for their efforts and skill, especially in attracting new, early-career educators. But we still need to do more for our experienced teachers, recognizing their value and encouraging them to stay in Idaho schools despite higher pay in other states.”
Ybarra hardly stands alone in not providing data. On Sept. 13, the K-12 Education Task Force subcommittee dedicated to reviewing the Career Ladder recommended more money for veteran teachers. Problem is, the subcommittee, like the superintendent, offered zero data to the public to support its call.
In summary, the public’s conversation about veteran teachers lacks three important things: a clear-eyed definition of what constitutes an experienced or veteran teacher; data on the turnover rate of veteran teachers; and a full understanding of teacher salaries.
One thing the Idaho Freedom Foundation does have, however, is some information on salaries. The Idaho Department of Education compiles it on its ISEE report.
Let’s review some details that have not been shared with the public thus far. The following salary information, based on the 2018-19 school year, funded by General Fund appropriations, is for base salary only and does not include additional compensation for leadership premiums, summer contracts, or athletic positions. This additional pay totaled $16.8 million for teachers in the 2018-19 school year. The Career Ladder total salary and benefit appropriation was $904.4 million.
- The average statewide base salary for teachers at the highest rung, professional level 10 (P10), is about $62,000 for traditional public schools. This is far more than the Legislature-approved, basic Career Ladder salary allocation schedule amount of $49,401 for this pay level. Teachers generally need to teach more than 13 years and hold an advanced degree to achieve this rung.
- Professional Level 1 (P1) teachers, generally in the four- to nine-year range, depending upon educational attainment, are paid a statewide average salary of about $40,800 at traditional public schools. The Career Ladder allocation is $40,750.
- In the Boise School District, the average salary for a P10 teacher is about $71,600, far more than the state average or the Career Ladder allocation of $49,401. The P1 average in this district is about $43,500, compared to the Career Ladder allocation of $40,750.
- In the Sugar-Salem District, one of the lowest-paying districts, P10 teachers earn $49,401 and P1 teachers earn an average of $40,750, both amounts are the same as the Career Ladder level. The P10 teachers are a rare example of veteran teachers who get paid at the Career Ladder schedule level.
- In the highest-paying district, Blaine County, P10 teachers average about $86,500 and P1s are paid an average of about $58,700 annually.
One can argue about the variation in the allocation of state money from district to district, but adding another salary rung to the top end of the ladder will not close the gap between rural and urban districts. Further, veteran teachers already get the highest premium over the Career Ladder salary schedule.
Finally, keep in mind that teachers in districts like Boise offer health insurance with 100% of the teacher’s premium paid for by the taxpayer. Teachers are covered by the public retirement system, PERSI, too. Very few private employers provide zero-premium health insurance and a defined-benefit pension. Teachers also work less than many other professionals. Teacher contract workdays vary but generally fall into a range of 180 to 190 days, or about 37 work weeks per year.
Before Idahoans throw another $40 million at the Career Ladder, they deserve a top-to-bottom review of the entire compensation package, not simply assertions or anecdotes.
Written by Fred Birnbaum of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.